Bachelor’s parties aren’t what they used to be. The way my dad tells it, they used to be a big event in a young man’s life. Unlike today, you couldn’t get away with a few pints at the local pub and a joke or two at the groom-to-be’s expense. If a bachelor was going down, he needed to go down in style!
It just so happened that – quite by coincidence – one of my good friends, Andrew, got down on bended knee on the same day that I did. Even more miraculously, we both received favourable responses. With my father’s wise words ringing in my ears, I set about planning a bachelor’s day for him that would be remembered for a long time to come.
After much pondering, I hit upon the winning idea: surprise skydiving. The idea hatched, I then set the plan in motion. I confidently booked a static line solo jump for both of us with Durban Skydiving. I then told Andrew (aka Victim) I’d organised a pleasant day’s fishing for the following Saturday, and he should please keep the day open. On the appointed day I drove around to Victim’s house to pick him up. To be fair, I think he was a bit doubtful about the fishing story – I’ve never shown an inclination for dangling a rod off a boat, and we were now heading towards the small town of Eston (quite a long distance from the ocean). Once the penny dropped, the look of pure anguish and surprise made all the efforts at secrecy worthwhile.
Victim didn’t have long to gather his thoughts, though, because pretty soon we had met Vernon Kloppers and Rogan Brent (our instructors), signed our lives away and were about to begin the lectures. The greatest thing about the place is the people. All the instructors are professionals with loads of experience (which, when you’re jumping out of a plane, is good to know), but they are also fantastic people who are happy to take the time to share their stories and experiences with you.
Once the introductions had been made, our group of about 15 nervous-looking students began the in-depth preparations. Lectures are planned for six hours – which is a long time when you’re nervous! – but the instructors go out of their way to make it relaxed and fun. Every lesson is carefully demonstrated, and students practise each manoeuvre in front of the lecturers until perfected. Once we had covered every possible eventuality (who knew there were so many things that could go wrong?) we were finally ready to jump.
Sadly, the weather had other ideas, so we sat and watched a majestic summer thunderstorm explode above us. This gave Victim some time to get his head around the idea of skydiving, and three weeks later, on a nice sunny day, we were back. During the break, Durban Skydiving had moved to a new location (on the R603, close to the Tala Game Reserve). The new spot was also pretty rustic, but with the potential to turn into an amazing site.
Skydiving is a pretty small community of dedicated jumpers. Even with our arrival at 9am the place was buzzing with activity, with people putting on jumpsuits and checking that kit was correctly packed.
Chatting to one of the old timers, I asked him what kept him coming back week after week. “This sport is more addictive than crack, and more expensive than heroin,” was the reply. Lance Darwent, one of the regulars at the site, would be our jumpmaster, and after a quick recap of the procedures we found ourselves being loaded onto the plane.
If one had to sum up the actual jump in a nutshell, it would be “hell on the way up, and heaven all the way back down.” The pilot, seeing our nervous faces, confidently reassured us that he’d read through the flying manual that morning, so we should be safe. We were then packed into the small plane like a tin of sardines; I was selected to jump first, meaning I sat closest to the exit. To make more room, and to make the actual jump easier, the plane had no door, so I was told to hold on tight and not look down.
Only a skydiver will know that feeling of nerves as the plane climbs slowly higher. Once we reached 4000 feet I felt a tap on my shoulder, and Lance calmly told me it was time to climb out the plane. Ignoring any last shred of common sense I posessed, and with legs as heavy as lead, I slowly stood up and moved into position.
The plane slowed down a bit, but sticking my arm out of the plane still felt like putting it into a tornado. Using all my strength, and praying for all I was worth, I literally ended up hugging the wing as I slowly inched out of the plane. I was now standing with my feet on the lower level and my arms hanging onto the wing. I looked back into the plane, got a thumbs-up from the ice-cool Lance, and took the leap of insanity.
The static line is only 15m long, so within 2 seconds of jumping, the parachute is already opening. To my immense relief everything opened perfectly: no tangles, no knots and no problems for a stressed first-time-jumper to deal with! Letting out a whoop of joy I grabbed the two dangling ropes and did a small turn. After the noise and nerves of the last few minutes, the silence that now surrounded me was overpowering. I could see for miles around, and I had nothing for company besides a few birds fluttering curiously about.
I slowly turned and glided down to earth, taking in as much of the scenery as I could. All too soon I got closer to the landing zone, and before long I could make out Vernon standing on the runway with big red batons to guide me down. Following his directions it wasn’t long before I had bumped down safely on the runway.
I was glad to see Andrew land safely, as the thought of having to explain any broken bones to his fiancée was one I had tried to ignore. We received a few hearty slaps on the back for being the first static-liners to land at the new site, which added to the feeling of achievement glowing in my chest. As we slowly let it all sink in, talk invariably turned to more jumps and jump courses.
It was at this point that I realised that the sport really is addictive. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
What you need to know:
Skydive Durban offers static-line courses (including training, equipment hire and one jump) for R1 350. See the Facebook page (Durban Skydive Centre) for more details, including deals on tandem jumps and accelerated freefall courses.
For those wanting more details on what it’s all about, I’ve uploaded a short video of my jump on to Vimeo.com. Search for “Sam Bradley”, with the video titled “Leap of Insanity”.